quarta-feira, 5 de agosto de 2009

DER SPIEGEL international


Neo-Nazis Evicted from Village Hotel

A German court has ordered a neo-Nazi group to vacate an abandoned hotel it squatted two weeks ago in the town of Fassberg. Local residents have been relieved -- temporarily -- of the risk of the far-right political activists staining their town's reputation.

After almost two weeks of occupying a deserted hotel in the small town of Fassberg in the northern German state of Lower Saxony, a local court provisionally ruled Tuesday that the neo-Nazis had unlawfully broken into the building and ordered them to leave.

The group of extremists, led by the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) deputy leader Jürgen Rieger, had previously refused to leave -- saying that they had an official lease on the 80-room property, which they intended to use as an education and training center.

The owners of the building, however, are heavily indebted, and the hotel went into receivership just one day after the lease was signed, providing the basis for a messy legal battle.

Although the official receiver had locked up the property, Rieger forcefully broke into it by drilling out the locks, claiming to be the holder of a legal lease contract. Flags and posters, with slogans like "we've come for good" and "the press is lying" have plastered the walls of the building since, intimidating members of the public and local politicians.

In recent days, as many as 350 local residents have gathered near the property to protest the presence of the neo-Nazis. When the group vacated the premises without force on Tuesday, local residents cheered, relieved that their community -- at least for the time being -- would not be tarnished by the far-right radicals.

"The building looked so dead, it was so sad," pensioner Marianne Glagla told German public television station ARD. "Those who say they weren't scared are lying," Karl-Heinz Hufenbach, who also lives in the town with a local population of less than 8,000 thousand, added.

A Neo-Nazi Affinity for the Region

For some, though, the squatting came as no surprise. "Rieger seems to have an affinity to our region," local politician Angelika Cremer of the Social Democratic Party told the broadcaster.

In 1978, Rieger took out a lease on a farm in a nearby village, which served as a training center for right-wing youths for almost two decades. Bergen-Belsen, the site of one of the largest concentration camps operated under the Nazi regime, is just a short drive away. This is thought to be one of the things the neo-Nazis, many of whom are Holocaust deniers, to the area.

Rieger and his supporters had occupied the hotel since the end of July. Over the past two weeks, residents had repeatedly reported hearing gun shots. Although no weapons were found during a property search earlier this week, police confiscated mace cans and truncheons.

Rieger has been involved in similar real estate games in the past. On previous occasions, neo-Nazi groups led by the Hamburg-based lawyer have attempted or threatened to purchase properties, such as a hotel or bar, at an inflated price, prompting intimidated locals to make a higher bid for the property to keep the NPD away. In some instances, critics believe, the neo-Nazis have actually turned a profit with their alleged property speculation.

The property at the center of the current dispute was valued at €950,000 three years ago, but Rieger reportedly offered to pay €1.2 million. The sale never went through because of ongoing negotiations with another investor, who is willing to offer €750,000 to convert it into a health center. This idea has been backed by the community as well as the village's 62-year-old mayor, Hans-Werner Schlitte, who described the facility conversion as a "perfect solution."

"There is no lack of hotels in the area, and a health care facility could be useful," Schlitte added.

The official receiver is arguing that the €600 monthly rent Rieger is required to pay on the lease contract is too low considering the market value of the hotel and the price the NPD activist has said he would be willing to pay and that it penalizes creditors.

A court must still make a final decision on whether Rieger's lease contract is valid. Until then, the locals of Fassberg are simply glad that they no longer have to make detours around the hotel to avoid the black-clad neo-Nazis and their dogs.